It has always fascinated me that when the giant sunflower plant bursts out to its glorious flower head, it is not long before it droops down (heavy with seed), upon the neck of its thick trunk. So intimately, even in nature, is humility joined to exaltation. “Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Vincent made many attempts to picture the wondrous sunflower, and here he gives us the plant’s apotheosis and its declension side-by-side. This tells us that the seeds within the flower head do not reach maturity until the plant bows low.
How exalted we’ve all felt, at times, in our youth and in our burgeoning years—to have accomplished something really good. And yet it was only when the weight of that glory (Augustine’s pondus gloriae) made us bow down before God in adoration—that our work was indeed well done.
I honor the Chinese tradition that finds in the chrysanthemum (the last of summer’s flowers) a symbol of old age. But here in the West, the sunflower serves us even more tellingly.
It is only when life seems to have ended that it really begins. Whoever loses his life keeps it. So, when we are beset with discouragement over the goods we lose or that are taken from us, it is important to remember that Jesus never did so much for this world as when He seemed to be doing nothing—on the Cross.
There is great feeling in this painting. The flowers seem to elicit the reach of your hand, the feel of your fingertips upon their surfaces—those marvelous double helix packages.
From Meditations on Some Art I Have Loved
By Fr. Hilary Sweeney, C.P.